This post will answer the question, is stainless steel cookware safe? It will review the safety of stainless steel cookware, how to properly care for stainless steel, and what brands are safe to buy.
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If you are looking to purchase cookware you might be wondering if stainless steel is a good option. In particular you might be wondering if stainless steel cookware is safe and non toxic for health. In this article we will review why stainless steel is a great option when it comes to cookware and why it's safer than non-stick cookware.
Table of Contents
- What is stainless steel?
- The problem with non-stick cookware:
- Is stainless steel cookware safe?
- How to care for stainless steel cookware:
- Disadvantages of stainless steel cookware:
- Safe stainless steel cookware to buy:
- Other safe cookware options:
- Frequently asked questions:
- Other information you will be interested in:
- Our expertise:
What is stainless steel?
Stainless steel is an alloy containing chromium that is particularly resistant to tarnishing, rust and wear. It is commonly used in cookware, appliances, machinery, and even medical equipment. It is very popular in the restaurant industry, and you will find it not only being used in cookware, but also for utensils, cutlery, benchtops, fridges, ovens, stove tops and more.
Stainless steel is not only a high quality, durable metal, it is also a safe option when it comes to cooking. Stainless steel is not coated in harmful non-stick coatings and holds up well over time.
The problem with non-stick cookware:
Non-stick coatings and Teflon coatings are made with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The original coatings (like Teflon) are perfluorooctanoic acid (which is also known as PFOA, or C8).
PFAS chemicals have been termed “forever chemicals” because of their staying power. These chemicals are problematic for human health and the environment because they are persistent, meaning they build up and don’t go away. They resist degradation in the environment and they remain in our bodies for years, and sometimes even decades after exposure.
The original PFAS chemicals (like Teflon) are known as “long-chain” because they have a long carbon and fluorine chain. Today, the production of the long carbon chain chemicals like PFOA and PFOS have been largely phased out. The manufacturing of the next generation of fluorinated chemicals has brought new PFAS chemicals to the market and are referred to as “small-chain” because they have a shorter carbon-fluorine chain. The problem with this new class of small chain chemicals is their small size, making them even more persistent in the environment and even more difficult to clean up.
We get exposed to PFAS through many different means including through our cookware, drinking water, personal care products (such as makeup), clothing, and air. And unfortunately, most of us have high levels of PFOA in our systems, with greater than 99% of the U.S. population found to have PFOA in their serum when tested in the 2003–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
PFAS, even at low doses, are dangerous to health and are known to have a number of harmful effects on human health including but not limited to (for further reading on these topics please refer to the reference section at the end of this post):
- They are endocrine disruptors or hormone disruptors.
- Can increase the chances of miscarriages in pregnancy.
- Affects the growth, learning, and behaviour of infants and older children.
- Increases risk of allergies and asthma in children.
- Decreases chances of getting pregnant.
- Increase the risks of certain cancers including thyroid and kidney cancer.
- Can cause metabolic diseases including obesity and diabetes.
- Can contribute to cardiovascular disease.
- Can cause thyroid disease.
- May cause inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Increase cholesterol levels.
- Can decrease sperm counts.
In recent years ceramic coated non-stick cookware has become very popular and is often marketed as safer than traditional non-stick cookware like Teflon, but unfortunately ceramic coated cookware can also have health risks.
Is stainless steel cookware safe?
For the most part the answer is yes. Just be aware that stainless steel cookware does release low levels of nickel and chromium, especially if you are cooking acidic foods like tomatoes. For most people the release of these low levels of nickel and chromium should not be a concern, but for those who have a nickel or chromium sensitivity or allergy this would be problematic.
As well, any damaged stainless steel pots and pans should be discarded to decrease your heavy metal exposure. Damaged stainless steel pots and pans will release higher levels of nickel and chromium, which you want to avoid. Additionally, the amount of heavy metal leaching will depend on the stainless steel grade, cooking time, cookware use, and cookware care, so I recommend using high-quality, surgical-grade stainless steel cookware, and it’s even better if it’s nickel-free. Stainless steel lined copper cookware is also safe because the copper surface doesn’t come into contact with the food. It's also important to care for your stainless steel cookware properly to prevent it from becoming damaged.
How to care for stainless steel cookware:
To help prevent your stainless steel cookware from becoming damaged it's important to care for it properly. When using cooking utensils, choose those made from materials that won't scratch the surface such as silicone or wood (avoid plastic utensils as they will release hormone disruptors into your food). You should also be sure to clean your stainless steel cookware gently, being careful not to damage the surface of your pots and pans or compromise the integrity of your cookware. If you take these steps your stainless steel cookware should last for a very long time.
Disadvantages of stainless steel cookware:
Now that we've discussed all the pros of stainless steel cookware I thought I would review a few cons.
Because stainless steel cookware is not non-stick it can take a bit of practice to learn how to use it properly so that your food doesn't stick to the surfaces or your pots and pans. To prevent food from sticking to stainless steel, simply pour a few drops of water onto a stainless-steel pan over high heat. If the drops crackle and slide onto the pan, it means it is the right temperature to start cooking. You can then reduce the heat slightly and pour your food into the pan. Cooking over low heat also helps prevent food from sticking to stainless steel. Adding some fat or oil to the pan will also prevent food from sticking to stainless steel cookware.
Stainless steel cookware is also fairly heavy which can make it a bit harder to handle compared to other types of cookware.
The handles of stainless steel cookware will get hot when you use them cook with. This can easily be fixed by using an oven mitt when cooking with stainless steel.
Safe stainless steel cookware to buy:
If you are looking for safe cookware options to purchase, including stainless steel, here is a great list.
- All-Clad Copper Core (with no aluminum)
- Chantal Induction Cookware (copper core, not aluminum)
- Cuisinart Multiclad Pro
- Hammer Stahl 3i6Ti (has titanium instead of nickel)
- Lagostina Stainless Steel
- Le Creuset
- Viking Professional
**Remember to avoid any stainless steel with non-stick surfaces or with ceramic enamel coatings.
Stainless steel lined copper:
- Cuisinart Tri-Ply Copper Cookware
- KitchenAid Copper Cookware
- Viking Culinary 3-Ply Stainless Steel Hammered Copper Clad Cookware Set
Other safe cookware options:
- FINEX Cast Iron Skillet with Lid
- King Kooker Cast Iron Skillet
- Lodge Cast Iron Cookware
- Simple Chef Cast Iron Set
- De Buyer Carbon Steel Pan
- ICON Carbon Steel Cookware Set
- Joyce Chen Carbon Steel Wok
- Lodge Carbon Steel Skillet
- Xtrema cookware - use the code PURENSIMPLE to get 10% off your order!
*** Be very careful with ceramic cookware - the only brand of pure ceramic cookware that I have been able to find is Xtrema cookware. You can read more about the health risks of other ceramic cookware brands in my post, is ceramic cookware safe?
Frequently asked questions:
For the most part yes. Of course that will depend on the type of non-stick cookware and the type of stainless steel cookware being compared. In general, the coatings used to make non-stick cookware are not good for our health. The chemicals used to make Teflon and other similar coatings have be found to cause many different health problems including thyroid disease, colon cancer, inflammatory bowl disease, birth defects and more. Even most ceramic non-stick coatings have questionable health effects due to the nano-particles used to make them. If you are interested in learning more about this I highly recommend reading this article, The Best Non-Toxic Cookware.
As I discuss in my article, How To Choose Safe Cookware there are a few different options that are safe for your health including:
Cast iron and carbon steel
Pure ceramic (Xtrema is the only brand I know of that is pure ceramic)
High quality stainless steel
Other information you will be interested in:
- The best non toxic bakeware
- The safest cookware
- Is there mercury in your mascara?
- How to choose non-toxic laundry detergent
- How to choose a non-toxic sunscreen
- How to choose non-toxic deodorant
Dr. Erin Carter, MD, FRCPC, is a physician with board certifications in internal medicine and rheumatology. She is passionate about nutrition, environmental health and low toxicity living and has been doing research and publishing information in this area for years. She is also a self-trained chef and has been creating and publishing recipes since 2015. Her recipes have been featured on many different websites and online publications.
- Stainless Steel Leaches Nickel and Chromium into Foods During Cooking
- Design, methods, and population for a study of PFOA health effects among highly exposed mid-Ohio valley community residents and workers.
- Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) Exposures and Incident Cancers among Adults Living Near a Chemical Plant
- Inverse association of colorectal cancer prevalence to serum levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) in a large Appalachian population
- The Navigation Guide – evidence-based medicine meets environmental health: integration of animal and human evidence for PFOA effects on fetal growth.
- Exposure to Polyfluoroalkyl Chemicals and Cholesterol, Body Weight, and Insulin Resistance in the General U.S. Population
- Association between Serum Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Thyroid Disease in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
- Exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances and thyroid function in pregnant women and children: A systematic review of epidemiologic studies.
- Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals in the U.S. population: data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2004 and comparisons with NHANES 1999-2000
- Exposure to polyfluoroalkyl chemicals and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in U.S. children 12-15 years of age
- Cadmium & its adverse effects on human health
- Public Health Statement for Nickel
- Congenital defects, abortion and other health effects in nickel refinery workers
- Health Effects of Arsenic and Chromium in Drinking Water: Recent Human Findings
- Effects of chromium on the immune system
- Adverse Health Effects of Child Labor: High Exposure to Chromium and Oxidative DNA Damage in Children Manufacturing Surgical Instruments